Friday, 28 August 2009


A gorgeous set is the first thing that struck me when the curtain rose on Phèdre at the Lyttelton. All golds and blues, I so wanted to step onto the cold stone, find my way to the sandy beach and dabble my toes in the sea that appeared to be just out of view.

Describing the plot in work the next day as a lustful queen attempting to seduce an unwilling stepson, a colleague commented ‘Ah, posh Eastenders then’. And yes, that was exactly what it was.

In places things got slightly over-wrought and a touch overburdened by a couple of long, declamatory speeches. I get a bit impatient with those ‘messenger’ type speeches where all the excitement happens just offstage, and rather than just tell us, the messenger has to act it all out, usually rather badly. This was no exception.

Helen Mirren and Dominic Cooper stood out though in giving performances which, if not exactly naturalistic, worked well within the confines of the play. Helen Mirren’s desperate lust reminded me of so many middle aged women, and Dominic Cooper’s gorgeous disdainfulness was Darcy-like in its straight-backed aloofness. Colin Firth’s Darcy did come to mind on a few occasions as Cooper made use of the tap at the side of the stage. At some points I wondered whether there was a wet t-shirt competition being held just out of sight around the corner on the beach. As a device for reminding us of the character’s need to a) wash himself clean, b) cool himself down, it was very effective. Of course, each time he doused himself there was a palpable rise in female temperature in the room, giving us a little taste of Phèdre's feelings, so maybe that was the real point.

Certainly, the play overall was a feast for the eyes and an intense, if slightly overheated, and just a teensy bit sudsy, enjoyable night out.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Dr Who and his Mum

I decided it was a sign of my triviality that my thoughts on the casting of Helen at the Globe kept heading back to Dr Who with Paul McGann (the eighth Doctor)as Menelaus and Penny Downie as Helen (last seen by me as Gertrude to David Tennant’s Hamlet). Penny Downie owned the stage from the moment she dashed in, and if there was a lot of unnecessary rushing from one side of the stage to the other, a sign I always think that the director doesn’t have faith in his actors ability to hold the attention of the audience, it didn’t matter because clearly Downie and McGann knew exactly what they were about, and I think I would have been as impressed if they had been rooted to a single spot throughout.

Unlike Alls Well that Ends Well, this really was a fairytale, with a reimagining of the story of Helen of Troy, on the basis that the Helen that ended up in Troy was just a trick of the gods, and that the real Helen instead spent the Trojan Wars in Egypt pining for her husband, making the Trojan Wars a complete waste of time. I particularly liked the way that although the parallel with recent British military adventures was hanging in the air, they left it there, for the audience to take or leave as they chose.

Penny Downie was light, passionate and her Helen felt real, as did McGann's Menelaus. It was a shame that the baddie was straight out of panto, but suprisingly it didn't make that much difference overall. This was a joyous riot, a real treat with a lovely fairytale ending that I was glad to suspend my disbelief for.

The joys of leaping out of your skin

I went to see Woman in Black as a little midsummer family get-together. I know the story pretty well, as does anyone who has been exposed to the GCSE English syllabus over the last few years, and so I thought I would find the play itself quite dull. In fact, I had an absolute blast with this, finding that familiarity didn’t stop me jumping out of my skin at the appropriate moments, regardless of my clever-clever disdain for the pretty basic plot. It was good to be reminded that good old-fashioned spooky stories are still effective, and I laughed so much my face ached.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A Grimm Fairytale

All’s Well That Ends Well could sum up the whole day really. We had intended a sunny picnic on the green by the London Eye, but ended up sheltering from torrential rain in the National Theatre café and Pizza Express before heading back to the Olivier for Marianne Elliott’s latest take on Shakespeare.

Fairytale is the big theme and tag line for this production and, although not subtle, the references are clever and well placed, from the heavy red cloak that our heroine puts on when she goes out into the big bad world to the silhouetted fairytale tableaux that introduced the scenes, which reminded me for some reason of French storybooks. The first problem with this play is that the first half is all scene setting, and I did get a bit fed up waiting for the main event, however beautifully the set-up was done. The second half was packed with incident though, all well acted and cleverly staged with not a dull moment. Brilliant stuff. But then came the ending. Of course we did get the fairytale, in that the hard to capture prince was finally captured. The trouble was that by the end of the story marrying off this clever and resourceful woman to such a twit who had failed to recognise her merits seemed more like a tragedy. Suddenly the title felt less like a statement and more like a question. So my applause was for the beautifully spun fairytale with a perfect happy ending, but also for the way in which the nasty realities of life were all so subtly exposed and the fantasy bubble was pricked.